hair washing, hair raising: how to give a child a bath

Ego I was a water baby. Spent my summers swimming in The North Hills Country Club pool, so when I had my own tadpoles, I was determined to start them early, before the age where they developed a sense of fear. Swim lessons when they were a few months old, quite frankly, didn’t last. The idea was good, but it didn’t really happen. But I did what we could manage, introducing them to floating and paddling about in our big jacuzzi tub.

Though yesterday, Abigail and I took a bath together. A real bath. For the first time. Ever. Certainly I’d given her baths before, but never had we killed two birds with one pumice stone. We bathed in her bathroom tub, where we washed each others legs and arms and back. Fingerpaint soap. Mixing colors on the walls. I scrubbed her hair and behind her ears. We sang Ernie’s rubber ducky song, except I didn’t know all the words, so I kept repeating the same lines. She didn’t mind. She was happy as long as no one suggested pouring water over her head. Ahem.

I had to teach her to trust me. I asked her to fall back on me, resting her head on my body, as I rinsed clean water through her hair. I promised not to get soap in her eyes, but she didn’t seem to believe me.

It’s weird, you know kids pick up on everything you say, that they’re smarter than we realize, more capable than we allow, but I find myself focused on objects instead of concepts. I can point to things and name them, but explaining the concept of trust to a two year old seems… out of place. I can even point to the concept of "sharing," by passing a desired toy between Lucas and Abigail, while repeating the word "share." Trust is something you have to feel to understand. Still, in a soothing bathtub voice, I said, "Trust me."

She was afraid at first, her eyes pinched together, her face a red knot. As she willed her body down against mine, I took a deep breath, forcing her to feel it, her body rising with mine. I poured a cup of clean water onto the back of her head, and her eyes stopped squinting. They were simply shut. I added more water, and she cracked into a soft smile, like when you’re having a delicious dream. I loved that moment.

51P2RFSRAAL._SL160_ I love that that’s our life together: a girl and her mama, in our robes, lubing up with pretty creams. Though she has me call it crema and always asks for more. Later, I’d paint her toenails the same struggling-actress-red as mine. We’d watch a few minutes of Ratatouille, where she’d call the rat "Mouse." Like me, her favorite character seems to be Ego, the food critic. Then I’d read her the book off which Ratatouille was based, as we nibbled some cheese. But, for now, as I unrobed her, slipping on her silky "ice skating elephants" pajamas, she noticed her vagina and pointed.

"Jina." She said it not as if she were saying the name "Gina." More like a woman named "Jai" with a proclivity to turn things down simply by stating, "Nah."

"That’s right Abigail. Your vagina."
"Mama vagina," she said, pointing to mine.
"Yup," I said, fastening her diaper.
"Lucas Jina."
"No, Lucas has a–"
"Penis," she jumps in.
"That’s right, yes. Lucas does have a penis. And Papa? What does Papa have?" I ask her, and she shouts, "Ego!"

Indeed. Your father has a big fat strapping ego.

2 YEARS AGO: Com Pro Mise
3 YEARS AGO: Being Fearless



  1. I love this post. I have 2 girls who will be 3 and 2 in July. The bathing is fun, although mine have a newfound love of showers. We still struggle with the vagina/penis thing. Isn't life sweet when they're behaving and can just be in joyfulness together with you. It's the best feeling in the world.

  2. What a sweet story. It reminds me of one I heard about a little girl who went to school and told all her friends that "boys have peenies and girls have big chinas!"

  3. For the record "EGO" is the name of the food critic in Ratatouille". That's not to say don't have a big ego.

  4. Loved this story, especially this part:

    "I poured a cup of clean water onto the back of her head, and her eyes stopped squinting. They were simply shut. I added more water, and she cracked into a soft smile, like when you're having a delicious dream. I loved that moment."

    And speaking of baths… Can you please give us a list of your favorite bath/shower products?


  5. My boy was taught to call his unit his "birdy" in nursery school and it's stuck ever since.
    I know I've told this story before but when he was younger and we'd take baths together he asked one day where my birdy was, I told him I was a girl and didnt have a birdy to which he replied, "you have a booboo"

    My suggestion is to bathe them more in the big tub so they can get used to going under. My child still tries to "swim" now that we have normal sized tubs in our new place.

  6. My 3 year old son took a shower with me just the other day and we had a similar conversation. He looked at my vagina and said, "Oh no, Mommy, what happened?" Me: "What Blake?" Blake: "Your penis? Where did it go? Did it fall off? Did you loose it?" Me: "No baby, Mommies don't have penises." Blake: "Are you sad? You lost it?" Me: "No, Mommies don't have penises, only Daddies and boys" Blake: "Oh, OK."

    It cracked me up and I am nervous taking baths or showers with him now!

  7. Oh my did this sound familiar! I did the whole "lay back on my legs" thing with my girlie-q's, which worked well. I have water babies, thank goodness, although the shower has just now become part of their bathing repetoire, so I didn't have too much struggling with hair rinsing. Now, at 8 and 10, they are too big and "too grown up" to bathe with mommy.

    My favorite "ego" story was when I was little bitty, maybe 5 and my dad had gotten out of the shower. We were pretty open with nudity, my folks and me (nothing perverted, just no hang-ups) and I cried because the hair on his legs wouldn't stand up. Then I reached up and swatted his "ego" and said "doink." Mom said after that, he dressed before leaving the bathroom.

    I love reading you, you always brighten my day.

  8. Beautiful. Those are the moments that bond us together and teach us how to be nurturing women. I remember growing up and enjoying special Mommy and Me time. Showers together, blowing bubbles in the yard, and brushing each others hair. At the time I mostly enjoyed being the one getting their hair brushed, but now I look back at those times with my mom as some of the best memories I have. Thanks for sparking those happy times in my thoughts!


  9. Rubber duckie, you're the one
    you make bathtime lots of fun
    Rubber duckie, I'm so awfully fond of you, doo doo de doo
    Rubber duckie, joy of joys,when I squeeze you, you make noise, rubber duckie I'm so awfully fond of you
    Every day as I make my way to the tubbie
    I find a little fella who's cute and yellow and chubby, rubadub dubbie
    Rubber duckie you're so fine, I'm so happy that you're mine, rubber duckie you're my very best friend, it's true

    This is what I remember, may not be totally accurate, hope it helps!
    Sandy, mom of a 10 year old girl

  10. I love this entry!
    It made me giggle and then made me want to have kids so I can share moments like that with them. (And I am really not even thinking about kids!)
    I love that you've been so honest and comfortable with your body around them; enough that you'd share it with us like this. Kids are so much smarter than you realize. Did you share the comment with Daddy?

  11. Hi there — I'm a fellow writer and blogger and just discovered your site. Great writing; can't wait to read more!


  12. I second the "where is the LOST blog?!?!" I thought it was a great episode this week. I got answers I was needing and it felt good!

  13. I also love this entry. I'm a teacher of high schoolers, so I love kids, but never want to have any of my own until I hear stories like this. Makes me wonder if moments like this are worth all the others that are, ahem, not as much fun!

    Thanks for the perspective and the laugh!

  14. So literary. Have you ever thought of yourself as a great American writer. I took a class in high school called "Great American Writers". They were all men.

    "I love that that's our life together: a girl and her mama, in our robes, lubing up with pretty creams. Though she has me call it crema and always asks for more. Later, I'd paint her toenails the same struggling-actress-red as mine."


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